The great designer Sori Yanagi was obsessed with pedestrian bridges, specifically the ugliferous blights that would greet his eyes every time he exited the Osaka train station. In essay after essay, he would bemoan the lack of beauty in Japanese public works projects, which, come to think of it, was pretty accurate: the public spaces in that country, otherwise so renowned for its aesthetic sense, are largely underwhelming.
After years of complaining, somebody finally took notice, and Sori Yanagi obtained sponsorship to present his own designs for pedestrian bridges. Behold:
The inspiration for his bridges came not from the sea (don’t they look like a starfish and a nautilus, respectively?) but from a trip to America, of which Yanagi writes:
“…when I first visited the United States, the very architect of commercialism, I thought American popular culture was a ‘painted culture’ (as in cosmetic covering) and ‘canned culture’ (as in mass-produced tinned fast food), and it left a strong impression that the culture was shallow. However, my perception changed when I saw the automobile freeways and gigantic bridges. I sensed the greatness and pride of America. These public structures are rigorous with absolutely no room for commercialism [emphasis added]. They were constructed under the absolute condition to allow automobiles to run safely with speed. This resulted in an honest design that purely caters to function.”1
In other words, when an object matters enough, when it represents the very essence of a place, then all stakeholders agree that it must be beautiful.
In the age of the automobile, pedestrians were an afterthought. But in our current era of ten-day traffic jams and toxic pollution, we all know that the day is not far off when all of us, regardless of our station in life, must ditch our cars. One way to entice the plebs to walk more would be to make the experience of walking itself a pleasant one. Some nice pedestrian overpasses would be a good start.